Last year, we called 10-6 after perusing the Bengals schedule. But it was a lot different 10-6 than how it ended up. How do you get there from here?
We had them winning against Denver at home and at Oakland and the Jets with losses at Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Green Bay.
Oh well, here we go again. We’ve got them going 10-6 again and it depends how you look at it. They’ve got the NFL’s fourth toughest schedule, but they can make hay before the bye. They play seven playoff teams, but get three of them at home. They play six games against 4,000-yard passers, but they get two of them in December at home.
The big stat? They play seven games against teams that had passing offenses ranked 14th or better last season. They play six games against quarterbacks who were ranked in the top nine in passing last season. It all means that a Bengals offense that has scored more than two touchdowns in just seven games the last three seasons has to jack it up to keep pace. The NFL’s No. 4 defense can only do so much.
SEPT. 12 At New England: The numbers say no. Carson Palmer and Marvin Lewis are 0-3 against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. The Pats are 8-0 in Gillette Stadium openers. Tom Brady is 7-1 in openers and the Pats have won six straight openers.
But these aren’t those Pats. In the first week of training camp 53 of 82 players had come to the club since the end of the ’08 season and Belichick emphasized the transition by removing all pictures and trophies associated with the previous decade. The Bengals, on the other hand, are in the third year of their transition that began with the elbow injury to Palmer in 2008. They look to be comfortable in their skin.
Plus, if you have to catch Belichick, get him early. He’s 19-13 in September with New England, his worst month. And while even Mike Zimmer defenses seem to have trouble covering tight ends, the Pats’ two prized rookies are playing their first NFL game. W, 1-0.
SEPT. 19 BALTIMORE: Can’t understand the hype about Baltimore. Certainly can’t understand how they get picked to finish ahead of the Bengals in the division. Palmer is 8-3 against Baltimore and with Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb the starting cornerbacks and Chris Carr with all of five NFL starts waiting in the wings, the matchup clearly favors the Bengals with their revamped passing game. Throw in that Palmer nemesis Ed Reed is out the first six weeks and you get the idea.
Palmer is 2-0 without the Hall of Famer in the lineup.
More mystery. The Bengals probably had a better offseason plucking weapons for Palmer than the Ravens did for Joe Flacco. They actually got a wide receiver with a long yards per catch career average in Terrell Owens and a stretch-the-field tight end. T.J. Houshmandzadeh is a great addition, but the Ravens receiving corps looks a lot like what the Bengals had last year. Who can go long? Houshmandzadeh averages 11.4 yards per catch and Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason 12.8.
And last year against the Bengals, the Baltimore wide receivers caught nine balls for 113 yards with Mason getting three of them for 31 yards and a long of 13. Plus, the Ravens are coming off a short week on the road against the physical Jets. W, 2-0.
SEPT. 26 at Carolina: They always seem to have one of these road games even in the good years. Remember Oakland last year with someone named Bruce Gradkowski? Matt Moore, the Panthers’ caretaker until Jimmy Clausen starts breathing, has all the makings of breaking their hearts. There’ll be a little bit of a letdown after the 2-0 start. The Panthers are a decent home club and are coming off a 42-38 decade in their building. L, 2-1
OCT. 3 at Cleveland: The Bengals take out their frustration on the Browns and with Mike Zimmer’s epithets ringing in their ears they’ll throw a tightly pitched game at an offense struggling to get its feet with new quarterback Jake Delhomme and no running game. With the “The Big Show” now in town, it won’t be as easy as it looks. But Palmer is 8-2 against the Browns and they always seem to be able to run the ball against them. Whether it is Corey Dillon in 1999 (192), Rudi Johnson in 2004 (202) or Larry Johnson (107 in ’09). And incumbent Cedric Benson has a 171-yarder against them.
Delhomme, coming off a season he threw 18 interceptions and lost three fumbles, already threw one to the Bengals in his last start against them. Safety Kevin Kaesviharn’s end-zone picked sealed a 2006 win over the Panthers at PBS. W, 3-1.
OCT. 10 TAMPA BAY: Hard to see the Bucs winning this one on the road with a 22-year-old quarterback in Josh Freeman and rookie receivers such as Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn. The Bucs are coming off a season where they were dead last in the NFL allowing rushing yards per game and while the third pick in the draft (Gerald McCoy) and 35th (Brian Price) should help at tackle, they won’t so early in the season. W, 4-1.
OCT. 17 Bye
OCT. 24 at Atlanta: This one has all the makings of a shootout and the edge goes to Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan because he’s at home in a dome and he’s got a Pro Bowl tight end in Tony Gonzalez and a burner in running back Michael Turner. Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey gives defensive coordinators fits because he’s so multiple.
Palmer is going to put up some numbers, too. The Falcons did make some improvements to the No. 21 defense with the free-agent signing of cornerback Dunta Robinson and the drafting of linebacker Sean Weatherspoon in the first round (with the pick right before the Bengals took Jermaine Gresham) but that won’t be enough to shore up a defense that allowed nearly 4,000 passing yards while getting just 28 sacks.
Still, the Falcons win a tight one with the dome advantage. And, for whatever reason, the Bengals are 2-4-1 under Lewis after bye weeks. L, 4-2.
OCT. 31 MIAMI: Trick.
The Dolphins are going to be better on a defense that ranked 25th in scoring last year. But not this year. True, they now are in their second year in a 3-4, but a lot of their guys are going be in their first year. Eight of their first nine draft picks were on defense.
Wide receiver Brandon Marshall is quarterback Chad Henne’s new weapon, but Zimmer seems to have his number. The Bengals held Marshall to four catches for 27 yards in last year’s opener against the Broncos.
Of course, Denver couldn’t run it like Miami can mash it with running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. But the Bengals are tough to run it on and the Dolphins are coming off a physical stretch with a game at Green Bay followed by a home game with Pittsburgh before coming to Cincy.
Treat. W, 5-2.
NOV. 8 PITTSBURGH: It doesn’t get any bigger. Monday night at home against their biggest rival.
The Bengals got over a huge psychological hump last year when they not only beat the Steelers at home for the first time in the Lewis era, but did it with a withering fourth quarter that caught the Steelers with 14 seconds left. The Bengals added even more steel to their psyche six weeks later after the Steelers bounced back with five straight wins. When Cincy exhausted them in the 18-12 tractor pull in Pittsburgh that beat them at their own punishing game, it sent the Steelers on a five-game losing streak.
Now Pittsburgh comes into the game with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in a groove in his fourth game back from his suspension. But his team comes in at the end of grueling three-game road stretch that swings through Miami and New Orleans first. Plus, the Steelers revamped offensive line, anchored by rookie center Maurkice Pouncey, is going to get a handful from an active Bengals front. W, 6-2.
NOV. 14 at Indianapolis: It will be a shootout with Palmer and Peyton Manning and while the Bengals clearly have the better defense, the Colts have been doubly deadly in their building and in November since the turn of the century. With Manning calling the shots, they are 60-20 at home and 31-12 in November. It could come down to a field goal, but the numbers say it will be Manning’s field goal. L, 6-3.
NOV. 21 BUFFALO: The Bills offer slippery offensive threats with rookie running back C.J. Spiller and wide receiver Lee Evans, as well as returner Terrence McGee. But the matchup heavily favors the Bengals.
How long will it take Ryan Fitzpatrick to dethrone Trent Edwards at quarterback? Particularly behind an offensive line that allowed the second most hits on the quarterback in the NFL last season? And the Bills have no pass rush to speak of with the retirement of Aaron Schobel, their leading sacker in eight of the last nine seasons. Second-year linebacker Aaron Maybin only has his first name. His next sack will be his first NFL sack. The Bills are going back to a 3-4 defense, but that won’t help them improve their No. 30 ranking against the run. W, 7-3.
NOV. 25 at Jets: The Jets whisked the Bengals out of the playoffs last season with an easy 10-point win at PBS. And all they did was get better on defense. The Bengals got better on offense, but the combination of the Jets No. 1 defense and No. 1 running game makes it an extremely tough nut on the road. The Bengals should play them tougher and closer, but the Jets can be thankful on Thanksgiving Night for getting the edge at their new home. Remember, the Bengals never won at the old Meadowlands/Giants Stadium in 25 years and 11 games. L, 7-4.
Dec. 5 NEW ORLEANS: If Drew Brees had slipped a couple of more slots in the 2001 draft in the second round, he’d be taking snaps for the Bengals in this one. But they still got a five-time Pro Bowler at No. 36 in Chad Ochocinco (Brees went 32) and Palmer provides a worthy opponent. Remember, Brees threw for 510 yards back in ’06 for the second most passing yards ever against the Bengals, but Palmer beat him with three TD passes, 275 yards, and a 127.8 rating.
But their defense is a lot better now and the Super Bowl champs can score so many different ways that it not only devastates your defense, but your offense as well. You have to score to beat them, but you never have the ball. They kept it an average of 31:10 last year with a defense that held foes to 38 percent on third-down conversions. The Bengals defense had a heck of a year last year on third down and they were 38.6. L, 7-5.
DEC. 12 at Pittsburgh: The Bengals 10-game division winning streak comes to an end as well as the three-game skein against the Steelers. Only once since 1995 has one team beat the other more than three straight times in the series and that was the Steelers’ five-game streak from 2006-2008. Give this one to defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. He’s got the same defense back that finished fifth last season. L, 7-6
Dec. 19 CLEVELAND: The Browns, who very well could be coached by Mike Holmgren at this point, are going to get better and better this season. But not enough to beat a desperate and overdue Bengals team. Their defense is going to prove too much for a team that can’t run it in the cold weather. W, 8-6.
Dec. 26 SAN DIEGO: A huge game worthy of the Sunday night limelight on NBC. The Bengals have come so close to knocking off quarterback Philip Rivers the past two games and now they finally kick the door in with the help of some nasty weather. The last time the Bengals played at PBS on Dec. 26, it was 2004 and fans helped dig out the seats from a deep-freeze snow and they greeted the Bengals’ last-minute win over the Giants with a cascade of snowballs.
The weather is going to be a shock to the Chargers’ system. Rivers puts his 18-0 December record on the line early in the month in home games against Oakland, Kansas City and San Francisco on a Thursday night. The Chargers get a break with 10 days between the Niners and the Bengals, but it is 10 more days to loll in the sun before the mini-Freezer Bowl.
In ’06, the Bengals blew a 28-7 halftime lead to the Chargers at PBS. Last year, the Chargers had to beat them on the last play at home. Law of averages and Law of The Jungle prevails. W, 9-6.
JAN. 2 at Baltimore: For the whole ball of wax. The AFC North title and the division’s lone playoff spot. So it will be flexed to Sunday night and the Bengals figure to win a down and dirty and frozen slugfest. The brilliant but aging Ravens defense finally goes off into a proud sunset as the Bengals defense symbolically rules the game to pass the Steelers and Ravens D in stats and perception as the cream of the league’s most defensive-minded division. W, 10-6.
Tags: prediction 10-6 record
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What about Butch Jones, the University of Cincinnati’s tireless head coach?
After a cross-country trip to Fresno State for a loss in his debut, Jones emerged Sunday night from the bunker rasping enthusiastically about the newest Bengal. Jones and rookie quarterback Dan LeFevour were quite a duo at Central Michigan last season.
As Jones put the finishing touches on a resume that got him the job at Big East champion Cincinnati, LeFevour capped a run that got him drafted by the Bears in the sixth-round after he became the only player in NCAA major school history with more than 12,000 career passing yards and 2,500 career rushing yards.
“He’s great athletically, but he’s also very cerebral,” Jones said Sunday night. “I talked to him and he’s very excited to be coming to a great organization where the expectations are so high. And he knows the opportunity to work with a quarterback like Carson Palmer is going to really help him.”
Jones has no doubts that a spread quarterback can make it in the NFL. LeFevour admits the transition from the shotgun to under center has been tough, but Jones says it can be done.
“We taught The Spread with pro concepts,” Jones said. “We talked about rhythm, timing, spacing. I don’t think there’s any question that you can make that jump. And Dan is a guy that is going to work at it and study it. He’s a smart guy.”
Tags: Butch Jones on Dan LeFevour
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Former Bengals wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe, let go by the Bengals in Saturday’s roster cuts, has signed to Tampa Bay’s practice squad at a full salary of $320,000 according to Briscoe’s agent. Normally practice squad players are paid $5000 per week.
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So the Bengals did end up keeping a former first-round pick of the Jaguars after all on Saturday’s NFL cutdown day.
But it wasn’t wide receiver Matt Jones, released earlier in the day as the Bengals made room for Jerome Simpson and Quan Cosby.
It turned out to be safety Reggie Nelson, acquired for cornerback David Jones and a conditional draft pick about 30 minutes after the 6 p.m. deadline to get rosters to 53.
In the wake of the season-ending injury to Gibril Wilson and the decision to cut all three veterans vying to take his place as one of the four safeties, the Bengals turned to the Jaguars No. 1 pick from 2007.
The Bengals know the 5-11, 206-pound Nelson well.
The move now gives the Bengals secondary five first-round picks and one they almost had when the Jaguars took Florida’s Nelson with the 21st pick. The Bengals ended up taking Michigan cornerback Leon Hall at No. 18, but had Nelson on their radar as one of their Plan Bs if Hall slipped through.
He ended up tying Hall to lead all NFL rookies with five interceptions that season.
Now Nelson joins Hall and three other first-rounders in the Bengals secondary. There is Johnathan Joseph at the corner opposite Hall, a ’06 first rounder, as well as 2005 first-rounder Adam Jones at the third corner and 2002 first-rounder Roy Williams at strong safety.
“Trade great for us,” texted head coach Marvin Lewis on Saturday. “Acquiring a young player with tremendous upside and two years left on his contract.”
The Bengals kept just three safeties at Saturday’s 53-man cutdown, so they were anticipating making some kind of move. Now instead of six cornerbacks, they have five corners and four safeties with safety Chris Crocker able to play corner in a pinch.
Nelson had a big rookie year with five of his seven career interceptions but didn’t seem to adapt to what new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker did with him last year. Tucker moved him all over, including into slot corner, and he even started one game at left corner.
But he’s advertised as a free safety with good range. In 42 starts with the Jags, Nelson had 162 solo tackles, one sack, and two forced fumbles. With special teams captain Kyries Hebert among Saturday’s cuts, Nelson will more than likely be asked to contribute in the kicking game. Four of his 18 special teams tackles came last season in a year he started 14 games before he was replaced in the next to last game of the season.
The Bengals picked up Jones on this weekend three years ago when they plucked him off waivers from the Saints. They got a lot of bang for their buck. He started seven of 33 games and had 47 tackles and eight passes defensed.
He was Cincinnati’s third corner in 2008 but got supplanted by rookie Morgan Trent last year after he missed virtually all of the preseason and the first four games of the regular season with a broken foot.
After going 18 years without making a player-for-player trade, the Bengals have now made one before each of the last two seasons. In May 2009 they picked up Rams running back Brian Leonard for defensive tackle Orien Harris.
Tags: Reggie Nelson, reggie nelson trade
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The Bengals won’t release their cuts until 6 p.m. Saturday but they told the players several hours before the NFL’s deadline to get to 53 players and the list is coming together via Internet reports.
Various reports say the Bengals have cut special teams captain Kyries Hebert and kicker Dave Rayner, which makes Mike Nugent their kicker for the Sept. 12 opener in New England. With word out of Baltimore that the Ravens cut Shayne Graham, don’t expect the Bengals to pursue their kicker for the past seven seasons.
Those reports came on the heels of league sources saying that Matt Jones and Dez Briscoe have been cut, indicating that Jerome Simpson and Quan Cosby have won the final two spots on the Bengals wide receiver list with Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens, Jordan Shipley and Andre Caldwell.
Wide receiver Maurice Purify, who missed the last four preseason games with knee tendinitis, is expected to be put on some kind of injury list.
Additional reports have the Bengals cutting defensive tackle Clinton McDonald and safety Marvin White. That’s two of the guys fighting for the last safety spot that are gone. McDonald, a sixth-round pick from ’09, is a guy they like and has practice squad eligibility remaining.
Tags: Cosby, cuts, receivers, simpson
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INDIANAPOLIS – Thoughts on a bus:
» The Bengals rolled up Interstate 74 Wednesday afternoon in about as good a shape as they’ve been 24 hours before a Marvin Lewis preseason finale.
If the burning issues are kicker, backup quarterback, the fifth and sixth receivers, and the fourth safety, things can’t be all that bad. It’s not ideal, but there are teams in their own division grappling with much larger issues. The Ravens are piecing together a secondary, the Steelers are trying to get to 2-2 without Ben Roethlisberger and maybe a veteran right tackle, and the Browns are trying to find a running game because if they put it all on Jake Delhomme…
» That said, those are concerns. I love kicker Mike Nugent’s track record, but not his injury history. I love backup quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan’s experience but not his stats (55.4 rating). I love Jerome Simpson’s stats (13.5 yards per catch), but not his experience.
» It’s all fine and dandy and Brett Favre to have a speculative roster plotted out: In a nod to injuries, four running backs, no fullbacks, four tight ends. In a nod to special teams, seven linebackers. In a nod to Peyton Manning not playing Thursday night but in the Lucas Oil Stadium return engagement Nov. 14, six cornerbacks.
Who knows? Those may not be the numbers. Besides, in an instant everything can change Thursday night. And it doesn’t have to be an injury to a starter, which is going to be tough to happen since they are probably all going to be out of there midway through the first quarter. If they ever get in at all.
Still, think back to Lewis’ first preseason and that finale, also in Indy. When holder Nick Harris let one slide through his hands, everything changed. Kicker Neil Rackers got hurt chasing down the ball, couldn’t kick in the opener, and Shayne Graham came to Cincinnati via the waiver wire.
Knock on wood, throw salt over the shoulder, wear a Bengals T-shirt backwards, whatever you have to do to ward off the fates. But a lot hinges on about 35 guys getting out of Indy healthy.
» How much different will the roster look at Saturday’s noon cutdown compared to Sunday’s noon finalization? Probably not much. First, the Bengals claim 21st off the waiver wire. How many guys can get they get that far down? They wouldn’t have gotten Graham. They were first that year. Maybe they could get a young fullback.
And it would be hard to see them signing any vested free-agent veterans before the opener because their full season salary would be guaranteed if they’re on the 53 Opening Day.
Unless, maybe, if it was a kicker and they’d just be exchanging the same salary.
But no way would they trade for a quarterback making in excess of $2 million, a la Matt Leinart. Now if they decide they need a backup, maybe they’d pursue a guy like that after the opener, but it’s more likely if they trade it’s going to be for a younger guy they can develop and that won’t mind sitting. They aren’t alone. No one is going to give Leinart or guys of that ilk their current salary.
If there is a major change it would no doubt come the week after the opener.
» Guys to keep an eye on Thursday?
Obviously the kickers. O’Sullivan. Safeties Kyries Hebert and Rico Murray. Can either guy amp up their play from scrimmage to match what they do on special teams? Fourth-round pick Roddrick Muckelroy. The Texas linebacker has been saddled by hamstring problems. But he had a good night in Buffalo. Can he put together back-to-back games? Center-guard Reggie Stephens, the seventh-rounder, and right guard Otis Hudson, the fifth-rounder? Can both make it?
And who knows, maybe they’ve made it or they haven’t made it according to The List that only the powers that be know. But like Nugent said, if they already made up their minds, they probably would have done something by now.
And, oh yeah, you’ve got to watch Simpson and Quan Cosby. They are the most fun to watch of the receivers battling for the final two spots. So different, but fun. It’s interesting to see if they’re the two guys that make it. You could see where it may be a weekly decision on which one the Bengals keep active depending on the opponent. On Tuesday, Lewis talked about how difficult it is for foes to prepare for three different kind of returners, Cosby’s strength. And what if you play a club struggling with short corners in the secondary and you think you could exploit Simpson’s hops if he can harness the snap-to-snap consistency with routes and assignments the coaches keep harping on?
» One of the great reasons to say goodbye to the preseason is that you can sense The Ocho getting jacked up for the regular season with his Tweets. On Wednesday he revealed his plan to grab the rifle of the “minute man” and fire it like the guy does when the Pats score if he’s able to score in the opener. What’s wrong with that? Good, harmless gag. And I’m really impressed he called the guy a “minute man” and not a Patriot. Good local knowledge. Don’t fire until you see the lights of the scoreboard.
Maybe he just doesn’t want to talk to me, but every time I’ve wandered over to his locker the last couple of weeks with the tape recorder out, he just shakes his head and says, “Got nothing to say, Hobs. The season hasn’t started yet.”
So, that’s another reason to hold a goodbye bash to five preseason games.
» As you guys know, I love Peter King, the sage of Sports Illustrated. But I just don’t get why he’s so down on Carson Palmer. OK, OK, he was throwing wilder than the Wild Card Game. A bad first half. But with no tight ends, one wide receiver, and a new offensive line, he engineered seven last-drive points for the lead, the win, or a tie, to craft a division title. Is that a guy on the downside of his career? I’ll keep saying it: If he did that on either Coast, there would be a statue of him in time for this season and, maybe, a Sports Illustrated cover in September to match Joey Votto.
» Here are three items showing that with 11 days before the opener, Bengaldom is in high gear:
The Cincinnati Rec Commission is bannering “Who Dey Sundays” at Neumann Golf Course with shotgun starts early enough to play 18 holes and get home by kickoff to watch the first six games. They are at 7:45 a.m. Sept 12, 19, and 26 and 8 a.m. Oct. 3, 10, 24. Golfers have to call 513-574-1320 by 6 p.m. the Saturday before for tee times.
Monty Montague, the maven of Bengals merchandising, sends along a note that says sales in the club’s Pro Shop (“store, stadium, Internet”) is up more than 30 percent over last year. A large factor, he says, is the signing of Terrell Owens. Coming off Rey Maualuga’s wildly popular rookie season, Owens’ jersey sales have passed Maualuga’s by nearly 50 percent. Quite a feat, he says, because numbers for Maualuga’s No. 58 are some of the best the Pro Shop has ever seen. He also says the T.O. Factor has also helped with sales of The Ocho jerseys. No. 85 sales are up five times over what they were last year.
Bengals.com is also riding the T.O. factor as well an AFC North-winning roster that has been tweaked just enough to provide Who Deyers with a heavy whiff of potential back-to-back titles.
Cyberspace guru Andy Ware says the site “continues to far outpace last season’s record-setting numbers.” August recorded the second-most total visits ever for a month (next to last December) with just over three million. Ware also said August had the site’s second-most unique visitors ever in a month (also next to last December) with more than 1.4 million. By comparison there were 2.5 million visits and 820,000 unique visitors in August of ’09.
Ware also says that Comscore reported earlier this month that the only NFL team site that had more unique visitors in July was DallasCowboys.com. The ‘Boys logged 868,000 to the Bengals’ 427,000 and the Steelers’ 384,000.
It shows the power and passion of Bengaldom, for which we are forever grateful. Not to mention the fascination with T.O., a Hall of Fame player that has crossed the Rubicon into popular culture.
Tags: power of bengaldom, roster numbers, t.o. players to watch
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